Examples of Libya, Bahrain reveal hypocrisy in U.S. foreign policy

The following viewpoint article was published in the Kalamazoo Gazette on June 8, 2011

By Wayne M. Conner

Momentous events have been unfolding across the Arab world. Pro-democracy movements have challenged corrupt and repressive regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen, to name a few. The pro-democracy demonstrators have been remarkably nonviolent, even in the face of violent government responses.

In Libya however, the rebellion took a violent turn. The situation escalated to a civil war and the U.S. responded with military force in what President Obama called a “humanitarian intervention.” While the Kalamazoo Nonviolent Opponents of War (KNOW) would like to see civilians protected whenever possible and cruel Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi out of power, we have grave doubts about this intervention.

KNOW believes that war is unacceptable, both because military action is a theft of resources and because violence begets violence. Military solutions are tempting to political leaders but rarely solve anything. Unintended consequences always result.

The original mission changes and the U.S. moves from humanitarian intervention to taking sides in a grinding civil war to attempting regime change to getting sucked into a quagmire that drags on for years. The chaos and bloodshed increase. Aerial bombardment always results in the further death of innocent civilians. Nonviolent resistance and diplomatic solutions get pushed aside. Violence begets violence, over and over again.

The flagrant hypocrisy of U.S. policy is also troubling. The U.S. has long given weapons and diplomatic support to unsavory governments in the Middle East who, unlike Qaddafi, act as reliable clients in the oil rich region.

Take the situation in Bahrain. Here, peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations also challenging a repressive regime were put down with violence. In February, Saudi Arabia sent troops under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council into Bahrain to help a fellow Sunni king violently crush the pro-democracy movement, falsely claiming that the country’s Shiite majority was being influenced to rebel by Iran. The U.S. did nothing to stop this violence. There was no talk of humanitarian intervention. There was little Western press coverage of peaceful Bahrainis being gunned down while they protested with signs, flowers, flags and demands for democracy.

Why the double standard? Bahrain is sensitive because it hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet and it borders Shiite areas of Saudi Arabia. The Sunni royal family in Riyadh fears a Shia uprising on its doorstep and within its own country and thus moved aggressively to put down the uprising in Bahrain.

Yemen is a similar story where the U.S. has continued, until very recently, to support President Saleh despite his violent response to widespread nonviolent protests against his regime.

In these and many other situations throughout the Middle East, when U.S. imperial interests are threatened, “realpolitik” takes over and the principles of democracy and human rights are shoved aside. Uncritical support for undemocratic and oppressive regimes must end. Military operations must cease.

The U.S. must engage in robust diplomacy, support self-determination, provide humanitarian assistance and demonstrate global leadership by basing its foreign policy on principles of equality, human rights and the efficacy of nonviolence.

Wayne M. Conner, of Kalamazoo, is a member of the Kalamazoo Nonviolent Opponents of War.